cover image Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms

Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms

Ralph Keyes. Little, Brown, $24.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-316-05656-4

After a lively examination of catch phrases in his previous book, I Love It When You Talk Retro, Keyes takes on the use of euphemisms. With a variegated assortment of verbal evasions, which he sees as tools for discussing touchy topics, Keyes suggests that euphemisms provide "an accurate barometer of changing attitudes." He covers everything from product names and personal ads to song lyrics and spam filters. Key subjects, such as censorship, war language, food ("Rocky Mountain Oysters"), body parts, sex, disease and death, and secretions and excretions get full chapters, and amusing anecdotes abound. For example, in the UK, Woolworth staffers who had never heard of Nabokov's novel unwittingly named a bed for young girls the "Lolita Midsleeper." Euphemisms also allow for coded communications. After "gay" was no longer a secret word among homosexuals, it was replaced by "friends of Dorothy," a reference to Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. Keyes delivers both insights and humor in a book that's as much about social commentary as it is about language. (Dec.)